“WHEN MR VISWANATHAN ASKED
me to preside over this function, I agreed readily. As in everything else, whether in trade or industry or commerce, any spirit of adventure deserves to be welcomed. In industry I always welcome more and more of first generation entrepreneurs. In technology fields, I welcome the increase in number of qualified and able technicians. In the sphere of publications too, I welcome explorations into new fields. The Press is also very exacting one and calls for a high degree of critical powers of analysis and observation. It requires courage to enter this sphere on one’s own. I also feel that, consistent with our growth in the industrial sphere and also the rapidity with which we are putting India in the industrial map of the world, it should add more number of specialised journals of specific interest. It is a matter of particular pleasure that our chief minister Sri M Bakthavatsalam is participating in this function.”
Excerpts from the address of A M M Murugappa Chettiar, head of the Murugappa Group, at the launch of Trade Wheel on 03 December 1964. Chief Minister M Bakthavatsalam and the head of Easun Group, K Eswaran, among others, participated at the release function at the Woodlands Hotel.
Breakfast for three at Rs 2.50!
Two years earlier, I started my career in journalism by launching Mobile, a monthly on transport and travel. It was a clean slate.
I began my career as a teacher having had a short stint at Loyola College and a two year stint at the Madras Christian College. Krishna Srinivas (KSri), editor, Poet, invited me to partner him in running his business. That consisted of a small printing press with a few cases of lead types and a treadle. He was printing the periodicals South Rail News for the Southern Railway, the Indian Chemical Manufacturer for a Bombay client and Indian Industries and Poet both owned by him.
KSri was simple and childlike
with qualities of an effervescent poet: temperamental and struggling to make both ends meet. He printed Poet out of love and mailed it at considerable expense to readers in India and several countries abroad whom he brought under the banner of the World Poetry Society. In the mornings he eagerly awaited the postman; an odd subscription cheque of Rs 10 was expectantly looked forward to. The Pandian Bank in Ranganathan Street liberally took up to Rs 1.50 as bank charges for discounting a Rs 10 cheque. KSri would hand his wife Rs 5 and used to take me and writer Sandilyan to Nathans Café nearby. The three of us used to have breakfast for around Rs 2.50 and the office attendant will be waiting for the balance Re 1! Remember, it was 50 years ahead of Amma Unavagams.
There wasn’t much money in the business even for KSri. He came out with a suggestion: of my starting a magazine of my own. It was an honourable method of getting out a rather tough unwritten partnership.
The Government of India lent an invaluable help. I was invited for an interview at Dehradun from the Indian Air Force for Non-Commissioned Officers in the education department. A second class ticket (in those days Indian Railways had four classes - first, second, intermediate and third). What a luxury! The interview, spread over four days, was exacting and of course, interesting with lot of physical and mental tests. Imagine doing this in May under scorching sun! I took the whole exercise easy. I was quite sure that my then chest measurement and rather thick glasses would not make me qualify. And secondly, I had already started campaigning for the transport monthly Mobile for which I had applied for registration. Eight of us were selected out of 51 and were sent to Delhi for medical examination. As expected, the Medical Board advised me to improve my chest measurement and also reduce the power of my glasses from minus 6. Both tasks were impossible within the timeline prescribed. I effectively utilised my time in Delhi to campaign: booked the first advertisement for the cover page in colour!
Around the country in 90 days
In the next three months, I travelled to Bombay and Calcutta, familiarised myself with the state of automobile production and the transport sector. How cheap those days were! You could purchase a circular tour ticket from the Railways on your own itinerary. There were just two conditions: you cannot retract on the travel and the total distance covered must be more than three times the distance of the farthest station. I drafted the route as Chennai-Calcutta-Jalandhar-New Delhi-Bombay-Arakonam-Coimbatore-Cochin-Trivandrum-Madurai- Tiruchi- Chennai. The price for a third class ticket: Rs 75.
Since this was a single ticket I could demand reservation of accommodation from Chennai for the different segments. The clerk at the counter protested: he had to send nearly a dozen telegrams at railway’s cost to ensure onward reservations. Two years later, when I stabilised the business, I graduated to first class. The cost of the circular tour ticket then was Rs 250. The rate was telescopic; the more you travel the less you paid per km.